On Monday, I played my first WSOP preliminary event, a $2500 6-max tournament. This is a little beyond my bankroll, but there are so few opportunities to play 6-max tournaments, and I’m not playing many other events, so I decided to go for it.
The dealer at my first table was a bit of a character himself. As I sat down, he was talking with a dealer at the next table over about Ben Affleck (who, for those who don’t know, is an avid poker player and at the WSOP). After finishing that conversation, he explained to us that he had a movie script that was going to “make millions” and he just needed to get it under Affleck’s nose to escape the drudgery of poker dealing forever. Someone asked him, sarcastically, why he would want to leave this job, to which he replied, “I am so sick of getting cussed at and having cards thrown at me and all that bullshit. It’s like, why are you getting angry at me? I dealt the cards, but I didn’t tell you to call that raise with 76s.”
To the dealer’s left, in the 1 seat, is a young surfer dude with blond, spiky hair, dark sunglasses, and a goatee that juts out several inches below his chin. “Gnarly”, as I’ll refer to him, worries me a bit just because guys our age don’t usually have the disposable income that would allow them to play a $2500 poker tournament with a negative expectation. He isn’t bad, but he does play very straight-forwardly, and his table talk demonstrates a rather shallow level of thinking about the game.
To his left, and my right, is a black guy in his early 30’s. For reasons I’m not going to speculate about here, there are very few black poker players. I’ve played with only a handful (that I know about- obviously I usually have no idea about race when playing online), and with one notable exception, they’ve all been quite bad at poker. However, the ones I’ve played with have almost all been flashy, wearing expensive sunglasses, big jewelry, etc. In this way, they’re like a lot of the young Italian guys who play at Foxwoods, fundamentally gamblers looking to splash around and show off how much money they have. The only talented black guy I can recall playing with is also much more conservative in his dress and mannerisms, so I think this is primarily a sample size issue. The guy at this table is both quiet and dressed in a subdued fashion, wearing a black sweatshirt that says “Dogtown” in small letters on the sleeve, so I’m not prepared to assume he’ll be a weak player based on his demographics alone, the way I would if he were, for instance, an old white man.
I’m in the 3 seat, which at a 6-handed table, puts me in the center, across from the dealer and slightly to his left. To my left is a young, pudgy guy in an ill-fitting Izod shirt. He talks quite a bit about what’s going on, and from the things he’s saying, I’m able to gather that he’s pretty knowledgeable about tournament play and poker in general, almost certainly the best of my opponents at the table. We’ll call him Izod.
To his left is a guy I’ll call Vinny. Vinny looks straight out of the cast of the Sopranos: track suit, gold chain, slicked back hair, etc. Then again, I say that about every poker playing Italian from Long Island, so that says something either about me or about Long Island Italians. Regardless, Vinny actually turns out to be a pretty even-tempered, friendly guy.
Next around the table is an older gentleman who shall henceforth be known as Gramps. In my experience, old guys are almost always tight passive (meaning they play very hands, and rarely bet or raise when they are playing) or loose passive (they play a lot of hands, but still are almost always checking or calling other people’s bets rather than forcing the action themselves). Gramps turns out to be of the latter variety, and is no worry to me whatsoever.
Despite my reluctance to assume he will be, Dogtown quickly makes clear that he is, in fact, not only a fish, but one of the worst poker players I’ve ever played with. He hates to fold, will play almost any two cards pre-flop, call almost any raise, rarely fold if he catches any piece of the board, randomly bluff in awful spots, and make it very obvious when he has a good hand. In short, I love having him on my right, and love watching him get lucky over and over again against the better players at the table. In particular, he takes a lot of chips from Izod by rivering a lucky two pair.
Izod was very vocal in criticizing Dogtown’s play, and finally, in his own defense, Dogtown said sheepishly, “If you concentrate, you can feel which cards are going to come.”
That just fueled the fire. Now Izod and Vinny are both openly mocking him, laughing and making jokes about his play while he’s sitting right there. He’s taking it well, but it’s annoying the hell out of me. For one thing, it’s bad for business to make fun of bad play. The old agage is, “Don’t tap the glass,” a reference to a common aquarium warning against disurbing the fish. Professionals make money based on the mistakes of bad players, so we benefit from an atmosphere where mistakes are accepted and encouraged, not mocked.
More importantly, though, this is just rude. Guys like Izod give all internet poker players a bad reputation with their lack of class. It’s ironic how many pros will justify their profession ethically by saying that losing players are compensated for their money with entertainment while at the same time behaving so rudely to someone who is clearly a losing player.
After reducing him to 500 chips, Dogtown doubles up Izod up by calling his all in (with blinds still 25/50) with 98 offsuit. Izod’s AJ holds up, much to my dismay, but he goes out fairly soon anyway.
Early on, I’m not getting much in the way of cards, and with Dogtown on my right calling everything, I don’t have a lot of room to steal pots. He does eventually donate most of his chips, though, and finds himself with only about 1700 at the 50/100 level. He just calls the big blind, and I look down at A5. This is far from a great holding, but I’ve been looking to get involved with Dogtown before he loses the last of his money, and just the Ace is enough to put me well ahead of his range right now. I raise to 300, and he, of course, calls.
The flop of 842 is a good one for me, giving me a inside straight draw. However, there are now 750 chips in the pot, and 1400 in Dogtown’s stack. He checks, but I know he’ll never fold better hands, and he’ll occasionally put me in a tough spot with worse. I don’t want to get all in with him right here, but I don’t want to bet and fold what could be the best hand, either, so I check as well. Awkward spots like these are why I shouldn’t make plays this like this.
The turn is an Ace, giving me top pair, though with one of the worst possible kickers. Admittedly, Dogtown doesn’t much like folding, but given how scary this Ace ought to be to him, I think he’s more likely to bluff at the river (or call a river bet with worse) than to call the turn with a worse hand than mine. So, I check again.
The river is a T, and now Dogtown announces, “All in.” Ugh. I wanted him to bluff, but he’s just bet twice the pot, and all I have is top pair with a weak kicker. Whatever, I can’t fold now.
“Good call,” he says, looking unhappy before he’s even seen my cards. He turns over KT as he’s exiting the table. Wow, now that is beyond atrocious. On the river, he picked up a hand that could very possibly be good, and then he turned it into a bluff by moving all in for two times the pot. I’m not going to call that bet with worse than KT, and he knew that, because he knew he was beat before I turned over the winning hand. With his hand, he ought to make either a smaller bet that I could call with worse, or check and give me a chance to bluff. Oh well, I guess that’s just the kind of thinking that bad poker players can’t or won’t employ.
The best hand I see at this table is AJ, which I raise to 300 first to act. Vinny calls on the button, and then Gramps reraises to 850 from the SB. A reraise from loose passive Gramps? Even with AJ, it’s time to get out of the way. I fold, and Vinny grumbles to me good naturedly, “300 and fold? You put me in a helluva spot. I call.”
Flop 643, Gramps bets 2000, and 1500, and Vinny calls, telling me, “You owe me 2300 chips.”
I’m tempted to respond, “I didn’t tell you to call a raise with 76s,” but I catch myself, realizing that speculating about his hand, even in reference to the dealer’s earlier comment, would be inappropriate.
Gramps moves all in on a Q turn, and Vinny deliberates for a while before folding 76s face up! Heh. Gramps, of course, shows him a pair of Aces. This is why I say I’m not worried about him: certainly he can be dealt good cards, but he’ll never give me a tough decision, because his play is just too straight-forward.
This table breaks, and I’m moved to another, slightly tougher looking table. There are a few more young guys here who look like they could be competent and no obvious fish. On closer inspection, though, there are two white guys in their early 30’s who give signs of being little more than ardent enthusiasts with lucrative careers that enable an expensive hobby. One in particular is wearing a corporate polo shirt with a World Series of Poker visor. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone wearing poker clothing (except for gear worn as part of an endorsement, obviously) who was any good at the game. Only amateurs wear tee-shirts that say “I went all in at the World Series of Poker!”
But I digress. The three players on my right, the aforementioned pair included, turned out to be pretty loose passive, so I was raising their limps with a lot of medium-strength hands. Generally I’d win the pot with a flop bet, whether or not I hit anything, and sometimes I’d fold if they played back at me. Nothing complicated. Once, the guy to my immediate right just called the big blind of 200 first to act, and I raised to 900 with A9. One of the corporate amateurs in the big blind called, as did the limper, which was not the result I wanted.
I got a flop of A87, which is actually kind of tricky when I have A9. If I bet the flop, I’m pretty much only going to get action from people with two pair or top pair and a better kicker. So, I check, reluctantly giving a free card to two players. The turn brings a T, potentially making more two pair hands for others but giving me an open-ended straight draw. They all check to me again, and now I bet 1700, prepared to call a check-raise, though I wouldn’t be happy about it. The BB calls, while the other guy folds. We check it through on a K river, and my A9 prevails over his A2. Excellent, that’s exactly why he shouldn’t be calling a raise with an easily dominated A2.
I’d just been thinking how nice it was that I was able to get away with all this raising because even when the table thought I was bluffing, all they would do was call me pre-flop and then give up if the flop missed them, which is exactly what I wanted them to do anyway. Then I got dealt a pair of Kings, and thought how nice it would be if someone did re-raise me, and sure enough I made my standard raise to 600 and the button, who’d been giving me the stink-eye every time I raised, made it 2500. Niiiiiice. I had about 16,000 chips to start the hand, but I was worried he’d fold most worse hands if I moved all in preflop because live poker tournaments are like that, so I just called his raise, deciding to check-raise all in on the flop.
The flop was a lovely 852, and I figured it was very unlikely my opponent could get away from another overpair. I checked, he asked what I had left, and then bet 5000. I moved all in for like 7000 more, and he folded. Oh well, it was still practically a double up.
A little while later, though the same guy gave me some actual trouble. After winning that pot and getting up a nice stack, I was playing more aggressively than ever. I raised 6s 5s, the kid (Jewish, with stylish sunglasses and clothing and such) called in the SB, and one of the corporate amateurs called from the BB. Flop Qc Jc 6d, and they checked to me. Bottom pair not good enough on this board, I check, too.
Turn 5h, they check to me again, and I bet 1200. Now the kid in the SB check-raises to 2500. Blech. I have the worst possible two pair, and the size of his raise, barely the minimum possible amount, suggests that he’s got at least a better two pair. However, there aren’t a lot of ways for him to have that. QJ is the most plausible, then 65, but my holding makes that unlikely. I doubt he’d play Q6 or Q5, I think he would have reraised QQ or JJ preflop, which makes high three of a kind unlikely, and again, with me holding 65, it’s unlikely he has 66 or 55. I had seen him raise before on a draw, but in that case he was in position, which he isn’t now. Our effective stacks were over 20,000, so even though I thought he could have a draw, I didn’t want to 3-bet him and commit my entire stack to this pot. So I called.
The river was an ugly K, improving hands like KQ and KJ that I was beating on the turn. Now he bets 3200, which is like half the pot. I only have to be good about 25% of the time, and I decided he could be on a missed draw or even value betting like KT or something that he had semi-bluffed on the turn and then made top pair with. So I called, and he showed me QJ. Nice hand.
We had our second break of the day, and then the guy to my right was busted and replaced by a pudgy dude with a short stack. My Jewish friend asked how much the guy had, to which the man dejectedly replied, “Like $5.” I eyed his stack myself and counted only about 3000 chips. Blinds were now 150/300 with a 25 ante, so he didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. He moved all in from late position a few times to pick up the dead money and grew his stack to about 4000.
He was moving in with such frequency that, combined with his pessimistic statement when he first sat down, I knew he was ready to give up and I was going to have to call him with a somewhat wide range if the opportunity arose. Sure enough, he shoved all 4000 chips second to act, and I looked down at 99. I only had about 12,000 chips, so I was a little reluctant to flip a coin with him if he had two overcards to my pair. However, based on my read, I had to figure him for a wide range that could include smaller pairs and stuff like A8 that I was way ahead of. So I moved all in over the top of his raise. I turned over my 99, and to my delight, he turned over 75s. With more than ten times then big blind and four players to act behind him, that’s a pretty bad move, and I’m in great shape with a pair higher than either of his cards.
Buuuuuuuut a 963 flop is not good new for me, even though it gives me three of a kind, and I groaned audibly when I saw it. The turn, of course, is a 4 to give my opponent a straight. I could still improve to a full house if the river pairs the board, but that doesn’t happen, and I’m down to 8000.
Next hand, the same player open raised to 1000. I had AQ, and moved all in for my last 8000. He folded, and after that the table broke, and I was moved to my toughest table yet. There was one mustachioed old man to my left who was quite bad, but then there were two young Asian guys and a pretty competent Brit.
One of my first hands at the table, the Brit opened for 1000 on the button and folded when I reraised to 3000 with AKo in the SB. I only had like 6000 behind, but there are plenty of live players who will and fold to a flop shove, so I figured that would be more +EV than shoving pre-flop.
On my first button, I raised to 850 with QJo, and one of the Asian kids called from the BB. He checked and called a bet on an A34hh flop. I caught a J on the turn and checked it back, but the river blanked, and I folded to a bet.
Next orbit, I opened with KJo and folded to a reraise from the other Asian kid. Then, first to act, I opened to 850 again with AJs, and again got reraised, this time by the first Asian. I had like 7500 behind, and thought for a while about what to do. It was annoying to get reraised again, but I felt like the fact that I’d just been reraised actually made it less likely that he’d be doing it light here. I ultimately folded, but I wasn’t happy about it, and I’m still not sure it was correct.
After paying another round of blinds and antes, I was getting rather short, and started looking for a chance to reraise all in over someone’s open. The Brit on my right, probably the most aggressive player at the table, made a small raise from middle position to 800, and I decided I was going to move in with anything halfway decent. I found K9 and shoved for 5400. He stared me down and kept shaking his head. “I just don’t think you have anything. I haven’t got much,” he said apologetically as he called and turned over KQs. Ugh. Q on the turn puts the nail in my coffin. …Next: Part 3: $2000 PLHE